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Online dietitian degree programs must adhere to the same standards as campus-based dietitian degree programs, otherwise graduates will not be able to secure the appropriate certifications and licenses required to work as a dietitian. Regulatory standards usually require graduates to have at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution in the discipline. Programs are required to cover some specific subject areas that prepare the student to apply professional competence in the field. Additionally, the best programs will also incorporate a professional experience component, which is often required to sit for the required certifications and licensing exams. If an online dietitian degree program does not follow these standards or exceed them, aside from students not being able to secure the required licenses and certifications, the degree as well may not be recognized by employers outside the fields of diet and nutrition.
Accreditation of online education institutions is of the utmost importance, but for online dietitian degree programs there is an additional component to accreditation. Aside from institutional accreditation required by government and healthcare regulators, program accreditation is usually required as well. For example, in the United States, all dietitian degree programs — regardless of whether online or on campus — will need to have program accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE), which is under the purview of the American Dietetic Association (ADA). Without such accreditation, the educational program is not in a position to prepare students to take the required certification and licensing exams.
Furthermore, the best programs will exceed this requirement and incorporate a supervise practicum into the educational program. Most regulatory authorities will require prospective dietitians to have completed such a practicum, lasting anywhere from six to 12 months in length. These practicums usually require accreditation as well, and in the United States CADE is the organization that accredits such programs. Prospective students considering online dietitian degree programs should consider whether the program incorporates this required practicum into the educational experience. Doing so demonstrates the educational institution’s commitment to ensuring the student’s success.
Moreover, while meeting these requirements and exceeding them are crucial factors in determining whether online dietitian degree programs offer sufficient preparation, students will also need to consider the program curriculum. Coursework should include a well-rounded education in addition to core requirements. Science and nutrition courses usually account for the core curriculum, but courses in communication, social science, food service management and psychology are just as important for the success of a prospective dietitian.
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